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The ten stories collected here introduce a British writer of exceptional promise who seems to find loneliness, hypocrisy, and cruelty everywhere he trains his often sympathetic eye. Burt peoples his somber tales with all kinds of victims: the old, the infirm, the young, the foreign, and even those who victimize themselves. ""Welcome,"" for example, reveals what happens when the lights go up at a chic nightclub in Mayfair--the gay staff retreats into booze and anonymous sex, ""traps"" of their own design. ""Wh'appen?,"" on the other hand, chillingly depicts the loneliness of the outsider in London; a young ÉmigrÉ of color, tormented by his equally oppressed classmates, turns to violence when his only friend abandons him. In ""The Single Tractor Track,"" a divorced mother of two, out driving in the snow to avoid her lonely neighbor, ends up, due to a failed engine, in the home of two even lonelier, very old sisters, one of whom cannot separate past and present time; in her dotty innocence she manages to connect with the children. It's one of the few glimmers of hope in this relentlessly bleak collection that reaches its darkest moment in ""QB/3854/294 & 6,"" a portrait of a victimizer. There, a prison-camp commandant in a nameless Hispanic country writes to a colleague, with pseudoscientific detachment, about his re-creation of sadistic Nazi experiments. The weakest stories (""Anyone Else Would Learn"" and ""Hiding"") concern angst-ridden adolescents who are really a pair of unappealing whiners. The title story narrates a day in the life of an especially repulsive protagonist whose apparent sophistication turns out to be the ultimate in depravity. The nattily dressed schoolteacher moonlights as a gay porn model, even though he's heterosexual and tonight's session-partner is his son, Fred. All in all, the failed experimentation of the longest story (""Fellow Passengers"") and the occasional bits of stylistic self-consciousness throughout in no way diminish the sense that Burt is a writer of formidable talent.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1986
Publisher: Faber & Faber